In order to investigate whether the Torah forbids deriving benefit from things that cannot be eaten in general, our Gemara considers a number of cases of forbidden foods in an attempt to clarify whether an issur hana’ah (prohibition against deriving benefit) is an inherent part of this proscription. Among the cases examined are gid ha-nashe (sciatic nerve) (see Bereshit 32:33), blood (see Vayikra 17:12), ever min ha-hai (see Devarim 12:23) and shor ha-niskal (see Shemot 21:28).
The case of shor ha-niskal is one where someone’s ox gores and kills another person. In that case, the Torah teaches that the ox is stoned and its meat cannot be eaten. The passage that says that its meat cannot be eaten – v’lo ye’akhel et besaro – is understood by the Gemara to teach us prohibitions against eating its meat, as well as deriving benefit from its meat. According to some opinions in the Gemara, the word et is understood to teach that the animal’s hide also cannot be used; according to others we must learn this from elsewhere in the passage, since they do not believe that the word et can be used to teach halakhot.
As it was taught in a baraita: Shimon HaAmmassoni, and some say that it was Nehemya HaAmmassoni, would interpret all occurrences of the word et in the Torah, deriving additional halakhot with regard to the particular subject matter. Once he reached the verse: “You shall be in awe of the Lord your God [et ha-Shem Elokekha tira]; you shall serve Him; and to Him you shall cleave, and by His name you shall swear” (Devarim 10:20), he withdrew from this method of exposition, as how could one add to God Himself? His students said to him: Rabbi, what will be with all the etim that you interpreted until now? He said to them: Just as I received reward for the interpretation, so I shall receive reward for my withdrawal from using this method of exposition. The word et in this verse was not explained until Rabbi Akiva came and expounded: “You shall be in awe of [et] the Lord your God”: The word et comes to include Torah scholars, and one is commanded to fear them just as one fears God. In any case, Shimon HaAmmassoni no longer derived additional halakhot from the word et.
One of the popular questions asked by the rishonim about this baraita is, why did Shimon HaAmmassoni encounter difficulties only when he reached this passage? Shouldn’t the passage in Devarim 6:5 – v’ahavta et ha-Shem Elokekha, that you should love Hashem your God – have presented the same type of problem? The Maharsha suggests that Shimon HaAmmassoni had no doubt that there was an obligation to love Torah scholars that could be derived from that pasuk. His only question was whether the same rule could apply to awe, as well, a question that Rabbi Akiva eventually related to.